Prove your humanity

International Women’s Day might be done and dusted, but that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to celebrate the accomplishments of inspirational women around the world and at home. As a woman, a sister, a daughter, and a friend to many beautiful and diverse women, I see IWD as a day to recognise not only how far we have come, but far we have to go. It’s a day to celebrate women, but also a time to recognise that women should be celebrated every day. When you’re battling for equity, you don’t get a day off.

Being a woman in the workforce can be both challenging and confronting and, as an almost-graduate who is planning to move into a different industry, issues of equity in the field of economics are frequently at the forefront of my mind. The best advice I can give, and have been given, is to find mentors in your desired field; reach out to those you aspire to be like, and to those who inspire you.

Leading up to International Women’s Day, I reached out to two women who helped foster my love of economics, feminism, and equality.

Dr Yixiao Zhou is a Lecturer in the School of Economics and Finance. She has a PhD in Economics from ANU, where she is currently conducting research, but will be back on campus later this year. Being in Yixiao’s macroeconomics class in my second year turned my spark of passion for economics into wildfire, and re-assured me that I had made the right decision in choosing my course. For her, IWD is a time to celebrate the contributions of women on all fronts, and to reflect on our strengths, resilience, and achievements. It’s a day to consider how women help make the world a better place.

Dr Siobhan Austen is a Professor of Economics within the Curtin Business School, and Director of the Women in Social and Economic Research (WiSER). She has a PhD in Economics from the University of Melbourne and her research primarily focuses on the economic analysis of the gendered aspects of key social and economic policy debates around population ageing, retirement incomes and labour force participation. It was in Siobhan’s Applied Economics class that I finally found the sense of belonging that I had been searching for since I left high-school ten years ago. It was also where I developed my all-consuming desire to improve the social and economic outcomes of those who are not currently adequately looked after. When I reached out to Siobhan to ask what IWD means to her, she said that it’s a chance to “take time out with like-minded people,” and “reflect on girls’ and women’s lives, contributions, and challenges. It’s an opportunity to re-charge the batteries and re-form alliances to continue the struggle for theories, policies and practices that are both relevant to the lives of women and which are needed by us all.”

I asked both women whether they felt that it was important for young people and especially young women to involve themselves in International Women’s Day and progressive feminist activism.

“It’s important for all young people – not only young women – to engage with the movement for women’s rights and enjoy IWD. The women’s rights movement calls attention to how everyone’s life is structured by gender norms; how these norms constrain what we can be and do,” said Siobhan. “Improving women’s rights – to economic equality, political representation, freedom from violence – also creates freedoms for men. We will all be better off in a more equal world.”

Yixiao agreed, saying that by celebrating IWD, “young women can better appreciate the unique value of being a female and learn about the many contributions of amazing women.” She believes IWD helps to instil women with aspiration and confidence.

I firmly believe that everyone needs role models, especially in the developing years of their career. A role model can help motivate and inspire us; they can offer guidance and give us confidence, especially when we struggle to do so ourselves. But our role models need inspiration too.

Yixiao has been inspired by many incredible female researchers, from her PhD supervisor, her colleagues, and peer academics – like Dr. Jane Golley (ANU), Prof. Helen Cabalu (Curtin) and Prof. Siobhan Austen (Curtin). “All of these women are pursuing academic contribution,” she says “and in the meantime they are nurturing early career researchers and students, as well as balancing work and life. They are all very kind and inspirational to me.”

When I asked Siobhan who inspires her, she pointed to Susan Ryan. “Despite being the only woman in the first Hawke Labour Cabinet (ruling party at the federal level in the 1980s), Susan pushed through the Sex Discrimination Act and legislation for Equal Employment Opportunity,” she said. “Living in an era when progressive policy change seems almost impossible, I often look to Susan Ryan as an example of what can be achieved by powerful – and clever – women.”

One of the reasons I was drawn to the field of economics as a career choice, was because of its ability to advance social outcomes. I asked Yixiao and Siobhan for their thoughts on whether economics does play – or can play – a role in the advancement of women’s rights.

Yixiao said that economic analysis can help us understand how women make decisions, and how they choose to spend their time and money to achieve their various goals.

“By revealing the constraints and decisions faced by women, economic analysis can help identify policies that could help improve women’s welfare and their contribution to the society.”

Siobhan built on this, saying that “[g]ood economic theory can play an important role in identifying the need for, and good design of, improved women’s rights. Two important economic theorists – Eva Feder Kittay and Martha Nussbaum – show us how the long-term sustainability of our communities involves protecting outcomes for children, frail older people, and people who are sick or disabled. They also demonstrate how this also requires protecting the people (usually women) who provide care – childcare, elder care, health care, etc. Kittay and Nussbaum contribute powerful economic theories and arguments that can be used to promote improved outcomes for our communities and recognize and protect the women who care.”

At Uni, there are times where it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, to find the motivation to do your assignments and to feel hope in the place of exhaustion when filling out those graduation applications. It is at those times that having a role model can make a difference, and it’s even better when they happen to be on campus.

These women inspire me, motivate me, and fill me with the desire to do better. So, I would encourage you to find role models in your field and reach out to them. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. But most of all, celebrate these women, celebrate all women, including yourself – and do it every day.